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  • Digital Economy Dispatch #150 -- Reflections on Digital Transformation: Lessons on Digital Engagement from 150 Dispatches

Digital Economy Dispatch #150 -- Reflections on Digital Transformation: Lessons on Digital Engagement from 150 Dispatches

Digital Economy Dispatch #150 -- Reflections on Digital Transformation: Lessons on Digital Engagement from 150 Dispatches
24th September 2023

Digital Economy Dispatches is now 150 not out! That’s right, for 3 years I have been writing about digital transformation topics, addressing themes that highlight the impact of digital disruption on business, digital technology directions, and the future of our digital world. It’s been quite a journey.

In truth, Digital Economy Dispatches began as a bit of a lockdown experiment. While others turned to new hobbies,  built office pods in the garden, or rushed to acquire a new puppy, I found myself wanting to find a better way to connect with people around me on topics that I believed mattered in those troubled times and share the things I was reading that caused me to think, helped me look at things in a new way, or required further discussion.

The result was a stream of weekly opinion pieces that I started putting online in September 2020. During that time, the topics, readership and interest in the articles have varied. Some have received thousands of reads and reactions; others, hardly a stir. But to be honest, chasing numbers has never been the point.

So What?

I have produced a lot of words on a wide variety of topics. But, so what? When I consider why I have been spending so much time and effort on this, there are 3 main reflections.

The first is that these Dispatches provide a personal log that allows me to record my activities over an extended time. While more a form of therapy than a research journal, it has nevertheless provided quite a useful base of information that I can use as a foundation for on-going work. Looking back, it describes key ideas and captures my responses to a range of materials that I’ve been consuming. But more importantly, looking forward it is a springboard for new activities that are informed by this learning journey.

Secondly, these ideas form a running commentary on a rapidly changing area. From the initial articles on the acceleration of digitization of core business processes in response to the global pandemic through to the exploration of a more substantive wave of interest in AI solutions in many domains, these Dispatches have helped me to gain insights into the speed at which digital transformation is evolving. The have forced me to face digital disruption head on, and ask questions about what is going on and why.

Finally, by publicly publishing the Dispatches each week, they have created a direct engagement channel with a substantial, diverse audience. Each week I received feedback (some weeks more extensive than others). Through this engagement I have found out a lot about which topics resonate with which communities, made many new contacts, renewed lapsed friendships, and been invited to participate in activities far outside my normal circle of influence. That’s been exciting and enlivening on many levels.

However, underlying these more explicit and direct roles, there is a fundamental set of lessons that have emerged. The Digital Economy Dispatches have been a live experiment aimed at providing data on the shifting communication mechanisms in a rapidly changing domain and the evolution of content consumption in a digital world. A kind of “living lab” in which I’ve been able to learn about ways to provide meaningful content that helps people understand more about digital technology and its impact on individuals, organizations, and society. As a result, my experiences over the past 3 years have changed what I write, why I write, and how I view the writing process.

Life Lessons

It’s not easy to condense my 3-year journey with Digital Economy Dispatches into a few short lessons. So much has happened over that time period to affect the content, structure, and approach to the material that is produced. However, let me make the following three broad observations.

  1. No-one reads anymore. Each week I produce an article of around a thousand words. That comes out at perhaps two dozen short paragraphs. Printed out it fits on 2 pages of A4 and takes at most 10 minutes to read it through. Yet, it is surprising how hard it is to get people to take that time to read them. We are all so bombarded with content through so many channels that we’ve become overloaded. Whether you believe Nicholas Carr that we have “rewired our brains”, or it simply comes down to lack of time, the consequence is that it is remarkably difficult to get people to engage with written materials. Most don’t read any more, they skim. As a result, I have switched my focus from thinking that the Dispatches are the outcome to them being merely a source for other ways to engage people: Videos, exercises, talks, mobile apps, and other routes.

  2. Engagement is about quality not quantity. It is easy to become tied up in a numbers game. Many newsletter writers and bloggers are chasing “likes” and optimizing to build audience numbers in order to sell subscriptions, products, or advertising space. However, that’s not my goal. Some of the most important and meaningful conversations about my writings have been when they are specific, focused, and speak to a small audience. I’ve stopped worrying about raw numbers. Well…almost.

  3. Opinions matter. The weekly Dispatches soon settled down into a familiar pattern: Take a topic of recent interest and review the issues in a digestible way. To be honest, they became a bit boring to write (and probably also to read). Then ChatGPT and other generative AI tools burst on the scene. At the touch of a button anyone can get concise summaries of complex information. Who needs a weekly Dispatch for that? In a content-rich world supported by easy-to-use generative AI tools, people look for nuance, opinions, and a distinctive voice. What matters is you: What do you bring to the material? What are your views, experiences, and insights? That’s why so many people read Prof G’s digital marketing newsletters, want Steve Blank’s tips on growing a startup, flock to hear Andrew Ng’s comments on AI, and so on. This recognition made me up my game. The Dispatches (in my view) became better and more useful as a result. And certainly more challenging to write.

Yet, perhaps the biggest lesson of all is the importance of taking time to reflect on what you see, hear, and feel about the world around you. In such a disrupted period driven by rapid digital technology, we are all searching for a value system that recognizes the growing geo-political tensions around the world and offers a responsible approach to the environmental reality of the planet. I hope that Digital Economy Dispatches capture a little of my personal journey to make sense of these dilemmas, and helps you as you find your way forward.

Through the Looking Glass

For 3 years, I've been sharing insights and reflections in Digital Economy Dispatches. From the acceleration of digitization to the rise of AI solutions, this journey has been eye-opening. The series of articles focuses on digital transformation's impact on business and technology trends. But more than that, it serves as a personal log, offers insights into the fast-evolving digital transformation landscape, and facilitates engagement across diverse audiences. From this journey I would highlight three key observations: Reading habits change the role of written text, engagement quality matters more than quantity, and expressing opinions and unique perspectives is crucial in a content-rich world. Have a go. Perhaps this approach could help you develop a distinctive voice in a time of digital disruption.